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Karen's Blogs

Blogs are brief, to-the-point, conversational and packed with information, strategies, and tips to turn troubled eaters into “normal” eaters and to help you enjoy a happier, healthier life.Sign up by clicking "Subscribe" below and they’ll arrive in your inbox. 

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Why Do You Give Up on Your Recovery?

Some of the most painful words for me to hear from clients and message board members are, “I give up. I’ll never be a ‘normal’ eater’” or “I’m not losing weight, so what’s the point in trying to eat ‘normally’?” These sentiments make me feel sad and helpless, close to what these people are feeling. But it’s my job—and theirs—to keep at it until they find success. What makes you feel like giving up? Here are some factors that may trigger the urge to say, “Ok, eating disorder. I surrender. You win.” A weight-loss focus: In our fat-phobic, thin-obsessed culture, it takes courage and confidence not to go along with the crowd and talk and think about your weight ad nauseum. In fact, focusing on the scale is a sure fire way to not become a “normal” eater. It’s only when you shift that focus to how you’re eating, how food...
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Feeling Like the Only One with Your Problem

It makes me sad to hear clients or workshop participants say that they feel like the only one with a specific problem. Maybe it’s bingeing, bulimia, or secret eating. Or having a mom with a long-standing drinking problem or a Dad who came home from war with PTSD. Or that they were raped as a teenager or adopted as a baby. I’ve had clients who were so ashamed that a parent had been in jail or that their sister had been murdered that they’d never told a soul. The odd thing is that if someone else had the same problem or secret, any of these clients would most likely turn all compassionate, feel sorry for them, and think the person was wrong for feeling so badly and so alone. Yet, they’d still hold on to their fear of sharing what they perceive is something very wrong with them or their lives,...
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Eating Is Not a Life Skill

A client who’s recovering from alcoholism mentioned in a session that when she was anxious, she really, really, really craved a drink. We talked about how having a drink would affect her afterward—the shame and remorse she’d feel—and how, by drinking, she’d really, really, really be missing an opportunity to practice crucial life skills. Addictions do that: they not only make you wish you hadn’t engaged in certain behaviors, but they prevent you from learning and practicing effective skills. And when you don’t have life skills, you’re at a loss to manage, well, life which makes it more likely that you’ll turn to behaviors which harm you and don’t teach you anything useful. Life skills are strategies and behaviors which we all needed to learn in childhood, but didn’t because our parents were teaching us from their own often dysfunctional histories, distorted perspectives, limited knowledge base, and imperfect abilities. Specifically, the...
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Expecting Others to Treat You Better Than You Treat Yourself

I often have conversations with clients who complain about how others treat them. Sometimes it’s Mom or Dad who critically point out their flaws and have nary a nice word to say to them. Or a spouse who has ridiculously high standards they can never meet. Or friends who aren’t supportive, kind and compassionate. And yet, this is exactly how these clients talk to and treat themselves. They’re hypercritical of themselves, see themselves as inadequate and defective, and speak to themselves in the most unkind, judgmental ways. If this happens to you, I’d like you to stop and reflect if this seems fair: You’re asking others to treat you better than you treat yourself. Why is that? Why should they do that? How is it that you expect them to be nicer to you than you are to you? Once you start treating yourself better, you will find that others do...
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How Nearly Everything You Do Makes Your Eating Problems Worse or Better

So many troubled eaters consider their eating problems to be separate from everything else in their lives. They’ll say things like, “Everything’s fine—except my eating” or “Life would be great—if only I could lose 10 (or 50) pounds.” While I’m glad that so many people think that life is going swimmingly, I fear they’re not connecting things that aren’t really going well with their mindless or emotional eating. Maybe it’s easier for them to think about what they perceive as their dysfunctional relationship with food than to admit having problems in other parts of their lives. Maybe they’re uncomfortable acknowledging that: they’re having trouble with their job or boss, having kids isn’t the joy they expected it to be, they feel burdened taking care of their elderly parents, their marriage isn’t working out, or that although they were miserable when they were married, but it’s not so hot being divorced either....
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Striving for Total Self-care

Often during a session, I’ll ask clients about something they said they were going to do to take care of themselves, like going to the gym or making a call about a therapy group. A common response is looking guiltily at me and giving me a gazillion reasons for why they didn’t do it, then brightening and telling me about some great bit of self-care they did. Is this something you do: take care of yourself in some ways, but not others? Remember, your goal is to take care of yourself all the time.During one such interchange, I asked a client, “I guess you feed Bill (a pseudonym for her beloved dog), but sometimes don’t give him water, huh? And there are days when you both feed him and give him water, but don’t bother taking him for a walk, right?” She laughed and denied that ever happened, insisting that she...
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The Necessity of Self-care Routines

One of the worst things you can do when you’re experiencing distress is to drop your self-care routine—eating regularly, getting enough sleep, exercising, and doing the small activities that give your life structure and publicly proclaim “Look how much I love me.” Emotional health includes keeping up with attention to self no matter what’s going on in life. This is exactly what many dysregulated eaters don’t do when life tosses them a curve ball or there is a change in their normal routine. When your life is thrown out of whack—by vacation, holidays, moving, illness (yours or someone else’s), visits from friends or family, a job change, extra work, or unexpected travel—it can feel as if the world is spinning out of control and you can’t nail down time for yourself. Pretty soon you drop all or most of the activities you’ve been doing to take care of yourself which have...
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Fixing Problems Food and Otherwise

One of my clients insisted that because her food problems were totally her fault, she was the only one who could fix them. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, two underlying beliefs of hers were mistakenly tied together and we talked until they got sorted out. They were: 1) It’s my fault that I continue to have eating problems and weigh more than I wish to, and 2) I’m the only one who can fix these problems because I’m the one who caused them. First, we tackled belief #1, her eating and weight concerns being totally her fault. I noted the statistic from Gina Kolata’s Rethinking Thin (page 123) that “70% of the variation in people’s weights may be accounted for by inheritance,” which led to my client acknowledging the eating and weight issues of her parents and siblings. Then we discussed her mother’s overfocus on weight and eating healthfully and our thin-obsessed, fat-phobic...
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Gaslighting- Another Reason to Learn Self-validation

When you’re meeting new people, especially if you’re dating, the issue of self-trust can be a biggie. That’s why learning to validate yourself is a must. If you tend to seek approval and validation from others and don’t trust and follow your gut, it’s easy to become entangled in relationships in which you’re bound to get hurt, then feel a need to eat for comfort. Here are some thoughts on the subject to strengthen your acumen. In “The hurt and confused locker” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 11/12/15, E71), Advice Goddess Amy Alkon describes how easily we can get duped by other people and how to avoid this painful experience. She notes how we get sucked into relationships with unhealthy folks when, for example, we question them on something and they throw up a shield immediately and “blast you for daring to insult them by asking.” They’re the kind of men and women who...
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The Importance of Finding Passion in Life

Though I don’t always agree with the political opinions of New York Times columnist David Brooks, his editorial, “Gaga, passion and art” (10/23/15), made some excellent points about the human need for living passionately. Too many dysfunctional eaters live without deep passions and end up seeking this kind of immersion in food. Brooks writes, “I suppose that people who live with passion start out with an especially intense desire to complete ourselves. We are the only animals who are naturally unfinished. We have to bring ourselves to fulfillment, to integration and to coherence.” He explains that people with passion “often have a fervent curiosity about their inner natures and an unquenchable thirst to find some activity that they can pursue wholeheartedly, without reservation.” The words that stand out here are “wholeheartedly,” “unquenchable thirst” and “without reservation.” How often do you engage in activities in this manner? Overeaters and binge-eaters often consume...
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Core Beliefs to Change to Help Resolving Your Eating Problems

At a workshop I attended sponsored by the Institute for Brain Potential, psychologist Joseph W. Shannon talked about core beliefs or schema—“an extremely stable and enduring pattern of thinking that is learned in childhood or adolescence.” If these beliefs, the basis of how we view ourselves and our world, are irrational and unhealthy, they’ll make it impossible to have a happy, healthy life. Below are some irrational beliefs I’ve heard from clients, hoping you’ll recognize which of these unhealthy schema you hold and understand that you won’t resolve your eating disorder until you change them. 1. Dependence/Incompetence: I must rely on others because I can’t take care of myself adequately or appropriately.2. Counter-dependence: I don’t trust others and can fix my problems myself. 3. Subjugation: I must ignore my wants and needs and, instead, focus on the wants and needs of others.4. Self-sacrifice: If I focus on my own needs rather...
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Competing Wants Around Food

A discussion on my Food and Feelings message board about believing that having the urge to eat means you must do so, got me thinking. When we want to eat, we’re singling out one desire among many others that we also have. Tuning into these other desires—for health, fitness, pride—increases our chances of avoiding mindless eating. There are many things we want in the same moment that we crave a certain food, say, ice cream, pizza, or a piece of fudge. The action you take depends primarily on which desire you attend to. Before talking about these other desires, here’s an example of what I mean outside the food realm. Say you’re wildly physically attracted to someone. Simultaneously, you also may want to: find an appropriate life partner, learn to be more comfortable on your own without a love interest, and practice avoiding acting impulsively because it’s gotten you into trouble...
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Self-soothing Is the Most Crucial Skill for Dysregulated Eaters

We all get emotionally dysregulated at times—I certainly do—and you’re less likely to perceive food as comfort if you have effective skills for re-regulating yourself. Read on to discover what these skills are and how can you acquire them. For more on emotional eating, read my books, The Food and Feelings Workbook and Outsmarting Overeating. First off, do you recognize when you’re dysregulated? Or, are you like some folks who raise their voices or get teary, but when asked if they’re upset, insist they’re not? The truth is that many people are totally disconnected from their emotions and/or ignore them as if they didn’t feel them. Think for a moment how you know you are emotionally dysregulated, that is, in an emotional state. Make sure you can identify the specific mental and physical reactions that signal upset. Your body tensesYour heart rate escalatesYou continuously ruminate about a distressing occurrenceYou are unable...
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You Can’t or You Won’t

How often do you say, “I can’t”? This statement runs rampant on my Food and Feelings Message Board and I hear it regularly in my therapy and eating coaching sessions. What if the only thing keeping you from progress is saying, “I can’t”? In “The Four Types of Depression and How to Help Clients Overcome Them—Microtherapy for Shifting Depressed Behavior Patterns and Attitudes,” (Psychotherapy Networker online, 8/4/15) Margaret Wehrenberg takes on the challenge posed by the words “I can’t do that.” When you say it, what you’re really expressing are two thoughts. The first is that to date, you have been unable to do something, say, stop mindless eating when you’re upset or stand up to your bully of a boss. The second thought you’re expressing is that because you haven’t been able to do something, you believe you’ll never be able to do it. Do you often tell yourself and...
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Stop Waiting and Start Changing

How often do you say, “I can’t”? This statement runs rampant on my Food and Feelings Message Board and I hear it regularly in my therapy and eating coaching sessions. What if the only thing keeping you from progress is saying, “I can’t”? In “The Four Types of Depression and How to Help Clients Overcome Them—Microtherapy for Shifting Depressed Behavior Patterns and Attitudes,” (Psychotherapy Networker online, 8/4/15) Margaret Wehrenberg takes on the challenge posed by the words “I can’t do that.” When you say it, what you’re really expressing are two thoughts. The first is that to date, you have been unable to do something, say, stop mindless eating when you’re upset or stand up to your bully of a boss. The second thought you’re expressing is that because you haven’t been able to do something, you believe you’ll never be able to do it. Do you often tell yourself and...
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Doing for Self versus Doing to Others – part 2

This is the second of a two-part blog, so please read Doing for Self versus Doing to Others part 1 before continuing. This blog is to help you understand that, just as what you do to take care of yourself or do for yourself is not meant to hurt others, what others do for themselves is not necessarily something being done to you or to hurt you. As I said in part one, if someone is taking care of himself or herself and in the process hurts another person (even you!), that’s natural and normal—and part of the rhythm of life. Other people may do things to make themselves feel better that are truly awful for you to observe or bear the brunt of. Your son shooting heroin may gravely distress you, but that may be his best current way of trying to care for himself. Your daughter may marry someone...
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Doing for Self versus Doing to Others – part 1

Clients often describe parents, children, spouses, or partners saying, “Look what you’re doing to me!” or “How can you do this to me?” My clients then get upset that their actions have unforgivably hurt their loved ones. “I don’t want to hurt them,” they lament. “When I hurt them, I feel guilty.” And so they go looking for food to (for the moment) take away the guilt and the feeling of being the worst person on the planet. I tell them that they are not doing anything to anyone, but that sometimes hurting others happens when they’re doing something good for themselves. When you’re taking care of yourself and someone else happens to get hurt in the process, that’s called life. Moreover, if someone needs to feel hurt, please, for a change, let it not be you. Let’s break down this dynamic. You do something—decide to divorce your spouse, enroll in...
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Should Is a Shame-based Word, So Stop Using It

I confess, I’m on a crusade to eliminate the word “should”—and its brethren “must, need, ought, have to, am supposed to” and “shouldn’t”—from the English language. Well, actually from every language. To learn the basics of why these words are contraindicated as motivators that will lead to “normal” eating and why, as comedian and educator Loretta LaRoche says, it’s time to stop “shoulding on ourselves,” read my blog, “Shoulds,” at http://eatingdisordersblogs.com/?p=4809. Should is an invented concept that is employed to cause us to feel shame. If people say you “should” do something and you don’t, or that you “shouldn’t” and you do, they mean—intentionally or unintentionally—to shame you into behaving the way they want you to behave. Who made up all these rigid rules about what we’re expected to do: our parents, grandparents, society, religion, government, the first Homo sapiens? Remember that shoulds and shouldn’ts are arbitrary standards agreed upon by...
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Fake It Til You Make It Equals Practice

One comment I hear (far too) often is clients and Food and Feelings message board members insisting they can’t possibly “fake it til they make it.” The belief that you can’t act in a certain way unless it’s instinctive and natural right down to your toes is an unhealthy belief in itself. The truth is that we’re all faking it til we make it at times or, said another way, practicing til we get it (whatever “it” is) right. Think about the first time you drove a car after you got your license. Did you feel as if you were ready for the Indie 500 after taking some lessons and receiving your license? I sure didn’t. Did you feel compelled to tell everyone on the road that you really didn’t feel totally competent and were terrified that you might mow someone down, or did you just do your best to maneuver...
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Saying Goodbye to Who You Were and Becoming Who You Want to Be

One of the barriers clients and Food and Feelings message board members sometimes have is holding on to past traumas they think have misshapen them—including being eating disordered. Why continue holding onto what doesn’t serve you? I’m not asking rhetorically. This is a question for you to answer so that you can make better choices about food—and everything else in your life. Do you understand why you actively cling to your memories of trauma and abuse, as well as behaviors you used to engage in because of them—binge-eating, excessive drinking, passivity, viewing yourself as a victim, fearing confrontation, shaming yourself, hiding the “real” you? Here’s my view of how to approach the issues of trauma and identity; those of you who’ve been reading my blogs regularly may have heard it before. Your childhood shaped in you certain adaptive responses to the environment you lived in which, in turn, gave you a...
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This website is owned and operated by Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed., LCSW. It contains material intended for informational and educational purposes only, and reasonable effort is made to keep its contents updated. Any material contained herein is not to be construed as the practice of clinical social work or of psychotherapy, although adherence to applicable Florida States, Rules, and Code of Ethics is observed. Material on this website is not intended as a substitute for medical or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment for mental health issues or eating disorder problems, which should be done only through individualized therapeutic consultation. Karen R. Koenig, LCSW disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the use of any information contained on this website. This website contains links to other sites. The inclusion of such links does not necessarily constitute endorsement by Karen R. Koenig, LCSW who disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the use of any information contained in this website. Further, Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, does not and cannot guarantee the accuracy or current usefulness of the material contained in the linked sites. Users of any website must be aware of the limitation to confidentiality and privacy, and website usage does not carry any guarantee or privacy of any information contained therein.  Privacy Policy